Living Myths for Transformation
“The axiom is worth recalling here, because mythology was historically the mother of the arts and yet, like so many mythological mothers, the daughter, equally, of her own birth. Mythology is not invented rationally; mythology cannot be rationally understood. Theological interpreters render it ridiculous. Literary criticism reduces it to metaphor,” writes Joseph Campbell in The Masks of God™ Volume 1: Primitive Mythology. 
There is certainly something intriguing about myths, even for the purely secular reader or commentator. Also fascinating is their durability and perenniality. It seems that myths survive in oral and written forms because there’s an aspect within them that resonates with us at a soul level, a level deeper than our own words, thinking, or conscious experience.
Myths—true, profound myths, not mere confected arrangements—reside as archetypes within our psyche’s foundation. They abide there either latently or with animation. Either way, they form (and inform) who we are. So they are not mere narratives or cultural-societal inventions, but rather bearers of truth about our essential humanity. And if we are inwardly awake and perceptive, we may observe how the personal, folk-soul, and universal myths are at play within us, and how they relate to the zeitgeist, which breathes around and through us.
In Primitive Mythology Campbell also addresses the topic of suffering. Often in my MythBlasts I take up the theme that the interior journey towards transformation, self-discovery, and enlightenment is often accompanied by intense suffering, and indeed at times, even agony. Campbell states:
Suffering itself is a deception (upādhi); for its core is rapture, which is the attribute (upādhi) of illumination. The imprint of the rapture enclosed in suffering, then, is the foremost “grave and constant” of our science. Compassed in the life wisdom of perhaps but a minority of the human race, it has nevertheless been the matrix and final term of all the mythologies of the world, yielding its radiance to the whole festival of those lesser upādhis—or imprints—to which we now must turn. 
Among their many missions, myths move us from a narrow vista or perception of ourselves (and the world) towards a more rounded vision and awareness. And specific myths can help us to find meaning in our trials and tribulations. They illustrate patterns imprinted into the core reality of the soul, and yes, often with the cost of suffering.
So in this sense, suffering is a given. A rugged necessity in the process of our development. Suffering shouldn’t be pathologized or viewed as wrong. And in a lofty sense, the ordeal is to be welcomed, embraced—loved, even—because we really only get to know the quiddity of ourselves through the transmutational crises that we’ve endured; not through all the times spent on the figurative “Cruisy Street” sipping piña coladas or the like.
Specific myths mirror our struggles back to us and connect us to something greater than ourselves. We could even say that they realign our somewhat restrictive and mundane selves to our larger Soul-Selves. Myths help us to embrace a multi-dimensional perception of ourselves by making the invisible and unconscious stories that we tell ourselves visible and conscious. But on the other hand, these myths may also expose some of our personal narratives, which are false and soul-disabling.
In this process of inner transformation we’re tempered. Tempered by the challenges, which life throws our way. And whether we meet these challenges well or poorly, we come to learn something more of our own nature. There comes with this experience a forging—a rhizome strengthening—and a deeper trust in that which is greater than our prosaic, everyday lives.
We can also support ourselves along this transformative path by getting into the habit of asking what is sacred about the very moment that we find ourselves in. What is the deepest message that may be disclosed to us at this particular juncture in time? Just as many folk songs are encoded with philosophical wisdom layering, we too may weave and marry the poetic and mythic into our lives, even into its supposedly more pedestrian aspects. And this is one way in which we dream the ancient wisdom forward to inform the present.
Yes, myths are timeless and transcendent, but when we don’t consciously invite them into our lives, we are prone to live them out unconsciously and compulsively, and therefore, sometimes quite destructively. The more we resist the presence and power of myths, the more their archetypal patterns push upon us. And so they must be recognized. When we can perceive (or at least intuit) the mythologies that influence our lives, we realize that the mythic realm is mightier than our prideful common sense.
Myths are oneiric manifestations of the unconscious, distillations of folk and universal truths, which is why we’re drawn to them; they enable us to observe what our psyche is up to. Then our actions can be understood within a wider context of meaning. These stories work on us, as much as we work the story. This two-way process illustrates the fact that there is a psychic center beyond our own.
Interpreting our experiences merely through a personal, and therefore reductive lens, is the expression of a person who is unawakened. We deplete our imaginal forces by honoring only the literalness of life. And when this depletion occurs, it results in a kind of soul flatness. When our primary modality of interpretation involves a symbolic component, then the myths have the potentiality to reveal pathways out of situations that are causing us great anguish. That is, if we indeed have the courage to follow them. And if we let them, myths will lead us.
Said another way, the gods and goddesses in the myths don’t just want to be read about, or talked about, or worshiped. They want to be lived. And they must sooner or later be lived for our own sanity, because in the most important analysis, they are us.
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Dialogues – Excerpt from Mythic Worlds, Modern Words
Our gift to you this month is eSingle. Access this download for free until the end of the month.
This is an excerpt from Joseph Campbell’s collected and transcribed lectures Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: The Art of James Joyce.
Arranged by Joyce scholar Edmund L. Epstein, Mythic Worlds, Modern Words presents a wide range of Campbell’s writing and lectures on Joyce, which together form an illuminating running commentary on Joyce’s masterworks. Campbell’s visceral appreciation for all that was new in Joyce will delight the previously uninitiated, and perhaps intimidated, as well as longtime lovers of both Joyce and Campbell.
Dialogues is a Q+A portion where Campbell answers questions about James Joyce’s views on didactic art.
News & Updates
Orthodox Christians observe Pentecost on June 6, recalling the astonishing day when the Apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, found they could apparently speak all human languages. With no linguistic barriers, they immediately set out to evangelize the known world.
Western Christianity worships the triune God on Trinity Sunday, June 12, in special worship of a triune God, or “one God in three persons,” the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
On Poson, June 14, thousands of Buddhist pilgrims will climb to the summit of Mihintale, considered the “cradle of Buddhism” in Sri Lanka. Here, in the third century BCE, Mahinda gave his first sermon.
Sikhs commemorate the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev Ji (1563-1606) on June 16. He was tortured and killed because he refused to omit references to Hinduism and Islam in his book of Sikh scripture, the Adi Granth.
Mahāyāna Buddhism acknowledges its debt to the late scholar Jamyang Khyentse Choki Lodro whose birth anniversary is June 18. He advocated for the ecumenical Rime movement until his death in 1959.
Myths do not come from a concept system; they come out of a life system; they come out of a deeper center. We must not confuse mythology with ideology. Myths come from where the heart is, and where the experience is, even as the mind may wonder why people believe these things.
Uncovering Anna Perenna: A Focused Study of Roman Myth and Culture
Table of contents
List of Abbreviations
Introduction: Anna and the Plebs: A Synthesis of Primary Evidence – T.P. Wiseman (University of Exeter, UK)
From Carthage to Rome
1. Rivalry and Revelation: Ovid’s Elegiac Revision of Virgilian Allusion – Sarah McCallum (University of Arizona, USA)
2. Calendar Girl: Anna Perenna Between the Fasti and the Punica – James S. McIntyre (Cambridge University Press, UK)
3. Not Just Another Fertility Goddess: Searching for Anna in Art – Gwynaeth McIntyre (University of Otago, New Zealand)
Anna and her nymphs
4. Anna, Water and Her Imminent Deification in Aeneid 4 – David J. Wright (Rutgers University, USA)
5. How to Become a Hero: Gendering the Apotheosis of Ovid’s Anna Perenna – A. Everett Beek (University of Memphis, USA)
6. Instability and Permanence in Ceremonial Epigraphy: The Example of Anna Perenna – Anna Blennow (University of Gothenburg, Sweden)
Champion of the Plebs
7. Ovid’s Anna Perenna and the Coin of Gaius Annius – Teresa Ramsby (University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA)
8. Infiltrating Julian History: Anna Perenna at Lavinium and Bovillae – Carole Newlands (University of Colorado, Boulder, USA)
The Afterlife of Anna Perenna
9. Riverrun: Channeling Anna Perenna in Finnegans Wake – Justin Hudak (University of California, Berkeley, USA)
List of Contributors
The Masks of God™ Volume 1: Primitive Mythology
In this first volume of The Masks of God — Joseph Campbell’s major work of comparative mythology — the preeminent mythologist looks at the wellsprings of myth. From the earliest expressions of religious awe in pre-modern humans to the rites and art of contemporary primal tribes, myth has informed humankind’s understanding of the world, seen and unseen. Exploring these archetypal mythic images and practices, Campbell examines the basic concepts that underlie all human myth, even to this day.
“What happens when you pair an intelligent but selfish and crafty trickster with an embodiment of loyalty, compassion, and care? Get to know Loki and his wife, Sigyn, from the Norse mythological world in a fascinating dive into this unlikely coupling—Lea Svendsen’s Loki and Sigyn: Lessons on Chaos, Laughter & Loyalty from the Norse Gods. Svendsen approaches her subjects with vibrant storytelling, scholarly insights, a keen eye toward the tradition of heathenry, and always a healthy dose of humor as befits a trickster devotee. Please join me as we laugh at, learn from, and marvel at the lies and love of Loki.”
Scott Neumeister, PhD
Editorial Advisory Group
Joseph Campbell Foundation
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